Business as usual can't continue says Co-operatives UK CEO Rose Marley. The IPCC climate change report ups the stakes for action to combat this existential threat and co-operatives have a big part to play in leading the way towards sustainable business practice.

major report on climate change was released earlier this month, unequivocally laying the blame for warming the atmosphere, oceans and land on humans. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, described it as a “code red for humanity” and we can all expect increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding across the globe.

The report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), endorsed by the world’s governments, should not and cannot be ignored. Climate change is already here and things will get worse – potentially much worse. Devastating wildfires in Australia and severe flooding in Indonesia are recent and stark examples of a fraught future.

There’s examples closer to home, like the flooding in Yorkshire in 2019 and 2015 which resulted in severe hardship for so many. This is sobering stuff and as businesses we have to seriously consider an active plan that changes our ‘business as usual’ planning.

Concern for the community is one of the seven co-operative principles. It guides all co-ops when putting their values into practice and has contributed to significant climate change initiatives.

Co-ops of all kinds are making changes both big and small – and some of a fantastically innovative nature! Greencity, a Glasgow-based wholesaler of ethically sourced food and drink, has just started delivering goods via an electric-powered trike to reduce carbon emissions. The trial is another initiative from a co-operative organisation dedicated to reducing its carbon footprint.

Chorlton Bike Deliveries bike cycling past brewery. Sustainable business in Manchester.
Chorlton Bike Deliveries in action in Manchester

Chorlton Bike Deliveries Co-op, in south Manchester, was set up in the midst of the Covid pandemic; delivering unsold food from local stores to foodbanks by bike, as well as hot meals to local people in need.

The wonderful and growing community energy sector is powered by its members. It demonstrates the desire at a grassroots level for sustainable energy and we’re delighted to have so many community energy organisations, like Co-Pilot Wind Project in Wales, as members of Co-operatives UK.

At our recent Co-op Congress we heard from the four largest retail societies on how they are taking action to combat the climate emergency. The Co-op Group was the first UK retailer to launch certified compostable carrier bags and has a clear sustainability plan in place, while members of The Midcounties Co-operative pinpointed climate change as their number one priority, and the retailer responded with a series of initiatives.

‘Planting trees we’ll never see’ is a conversation I regularly have with some of our biggest UK co-op bosses on a variety of subject matter. And ‘when is the best time to plant a tree’ as the famous Chinese proverb asks? Well… the proverb says 15 years ago and co-ops have been using the power of co-operation to do just that. But as I tweeted that ‘business as usual isn’t good enough’ in absolute shock at what we’ve done to this beautiful earth, I wanted to know what ‘trees’ my co-op is planting today. As the proverb concludes… NOW is the next best time to plant a tree.

Well, pre-pandemic we were on a mission here at Co-operatives UK. We are also making changes as we move towards greener ways of consuming and working. Our recent efforts included joining the climate strike and planting 150 trees to mark our 150th anniversary. We also held a vegan-cooking training course to help staff understand the impact of eating meat on the environment.

We looked at our beautiful grade II listed building, Holyoake House and started to change all lighting to LEDs, replaced our energy inefficient boiler and developed environmental and energy friendly refurb plans for the next three years. Personal pledges were made. Our wonderful head of comms, Wendy, said: “I promised not to buy any new clothes in 2020 – but to be fair the pandemic helped me with that!” It made me think the pandemic helped with so much visibility on what we have done to the planet. Dolphins appeared as the waters cleared in Venice while air quality improved in UK cities. That’s how quickly we could affect change if we make a global effort together; if we co-operate together.

So whether it’s encouraging staff to use public transport, supporting your local clean air zone or switching to a green energy suppler. If we aim to do just one extra thing, once a month and all the business in the UK work together to achieve it, it’s indisputable… Co-operating – working together – will absolutely make a difference. So share your best business practice with us and we’ll share it with our members. Business as usual doesn’t cut it any more. Instead, let’s work together to make a significant, positive difference to the world.

By Rose Marley

First published on the Co-operatives UK website on 18 August 2021

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Featured image: Conrad Bower

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